It always seems that, when things seem to be going really well and everything is looking up, some things happen that make you wonder if the “higher power” out there really enjoys seeing the events of one’s life go up and down like the hills of a rollercoaster.
To preface all of this, last Friday, a horrible incident occurred in Chicago. A passenger in a cab apparently had an altercation with the cab driver, and it resulted in the passenger pulling the driver out of the cab and running him over– not once.. not twice.. but THREE times. He then sped away, crashed the cab, got out, hailed ANOTHER cab, and fled the scene. The cab driver died later at the hospital.
For most of the weekend, the story dominated the news. people were disgusted and astonished at the horrific crime. At first glance, you would think the story would have taken place in one of Chicago’s worst neighborhoods, where things like this are all too common. But it happened in Lakeview… right in the heart of Boystown… where things like this are not at all of the norm.
On Sunday night, during one of the breaks at rehearsal, the degrees of separation between me and the story instantly became much smaller. One of my friends approached me and said he just heard some shocking news about one of his friends and was reeling from it… apparently he had turned himself in as the cab driver killer. I asked him who it was and he said “Mike Jackson of Chicago’s Department of Health- HIV/AIDS Awareness Division.”
My jaw dropped. “I know him,” I replied.
I had met him over a year ago online. We met for… well… we messed around. He was a really nice guy and was very easy to talk to, and I actually enjoyed spending time with him. I had seen him at numerous events since then, and we always talked and caught up. I never, EVER would have guessed that he would be capable of something as heinous as this.
Apparently, everyone else that knew him felt the same way, including my friends in the Chorus. In the news that followed, he was portrayed pretty much as my friends said, and as I knew. Nobody knows why he snapped. (Drugs have been suspected by some, but nothing has been confirmed. I wouldn’t know one way or the other.)
But that still doesn’t change the fact that someone I know… someone I had sex with in fact… is a potential murderer.
The next chapter in this story lies in the fact that two people very close to me have recently told me that they have tested HIV Positive. I will not say much more than this about it, but hearing this about people who mean so much to me makes me very sad as well.
The (hopefully) final, and to date most painful, chapter happened today. Another dear friend of mine from the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus passed away.
Larry had been a member of the Chorus for nearly twenty years. He had organized every GALA (Gay And Lesbian Association of Choruses) convention trip since the very first one, and had rarely ever missed a show. His presence in the Chorus was practically expected. He always had a jovial spirit, if not a bit of a drawn-out story to share.
Larry had been suffering from the effects of Liver Cancer for many years, but had been in remission up until this past summer. While in Montreal, Larry and I talked for quite some time while out at one of the bars, where he shared with me what he had been going through lately. It didn’t sound good. But Larry never, EVER made himself out to be a victim, or let himself sound as if he were hunting for sympathy. He just wanted to share his story and get to know people. He was endlessly friendly. I loved that about him.
The trip to Montreal was Larry’s last appearance on stage with the Chorus. Nobody knew it at the time. He and his partner, Rob, made the trip into an extended vacation. They saw sights and shared stories. One of my favorite memories of Montreal was after seeing Lily Tomlin, watching the fireworks from afar. It was here that I talked to Larry and Rob about possibly spending a day with them, as my trip was originally supposed to last until the Monday after the festival was over. Unfortunately, that never happened, because I had to cut my trip short by a few days. I regret that now. I would have enjoyed spending the time with them.
I saw Larry again a few times after that at Chorus rehearsals. Even though he was no longer able to sing because he was too weak, he still made it a point to attend as many rehearsals as he could. He loved the Chorus that much.
I saw him again at the Holiday show. He was looking incredibly gaunt and frail, but his spirit was still warm and as upbeat as he could be. At least until I asked him how he was doing.
“I’m doing ok, but I’m not getting any better,” he said. “I am just too weak to do anything anymore. And that includes singing with the Chorus.”
He started to choke up a bit.
“I will never be able to sing again,” he said firmly. “And that makes me really sad. I miss it so much.”
“We miss you, too, Larry,” I said, holding back the tears as best I could.
The last time I saw Larry, he braved his illness and his pain, climbed three flights of stairs, and came to my Christmas party. I was so touched by this. I knew how ill he was. I knew how he must have been hurting. But he took the time to come and be a guest in my home. I will forever be grateful for that.
I spent a long time talking to Larry that night. He told me that his doctor told him to make final plans. And if he wanted to travel, now was the time. I told him that he was very dear to me and that I was so glad he took the time to be there that night. And to remain strong and enjoy every day.
He stayed for a long time, and when he finally left, I gave him a big hug and told him I loved him.. and to stay strong. He said he would do his best.
After he left, my friend Jeremy and I sat on my sofa and cried. We knew that might have been the last time we’d see him. We had no idea that it truly would be.
The service is this Saturday, and the Chorus will once again be singing. Since this is the second time within a year’s time that we’ve had to do this, I don’t know quite how we will get through it. But somehow, we will. As our president said in the Email that I received just as I was getting ready to leave work, which echoes how I feel word-for word:
“Larry was one of the most amazing people I have had the privilege of knowing during my … years with the chorus. He will be missed in body, but will remain in our hearts.”